WASHINGTON - In a show of support for U.S. troops in Iraq, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly last night to approve nearly $80 billion for a spending measure President Bush requested last week to pay for the war in Iraq and domestic security.
After the Senate approved a $78.7 billion bill unanimously, the House passed its $77.9 billion version 414-12. Both measures exceed Bush's $74.7 billion request for military action in Iraq and enhanced anti-terrorism efforts at home, and offer far less flexibility than he had sought for his administration in spending the money.
Congressional leaders, eager to show their backing for U.S. military efforts as they gird themselves for what could be bloody battles ahead, have promised to try to reconcile the two measures and enact the spending legislation by next Friday, when lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington for a two-week break.
"The situation is serious - our young Americans are at risk on the battlefields," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Florida Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee.
After an emotional debate that highlighted lawmakers' lingering bitterness toward allies who opposed the war in Iraq, the House voted to block France, Germany, Russia and Syria from benefiting from potentially lucrative U.S. contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq.
The supplemental spending measure will provide the infusion of funds Bush says is needed over the next six months to wage the war, including more than $62 billion for military operations, about $8 billion for foreign assistance and more than $4 billion for domestic security efforts.
The measures also add more than $3 billion not requested by Bush for relief to the airline industry, which has suffered financial distress as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the conflict in Iraq.
Democrats complained bitterly that the measure does not adequately fund homeland security.
Republicans turned back several Democratic attempts to add money to help states and localities pay for emergency services workers and for stepped-up security at the nation's ports and borders.
House Republican leaders used procedural tactics to block Democrats from offering an amendment that would have added $2.5 billion for state and local first-responders and to protect ports, dams, bridges, nuclear facilities and military installations.
"If we're going to engage in a war in Iraq, we ought to be battening down the hatches, to the fullest extent possible, here at home to protect against a terrorist attack," said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, who have shied away from criticizing the conduct of the war in Iraq, have stepped up their attacks on Bush and Republican leaders on homeland security issues, accusing them of shortchanging domestic security efforts and neglecting looming terrorist threats at home.
Senate Democrats sought unsuccessfully to add $9 billion to the supplemental measure for various homeland security initiatives.
"Homeland security cannot be done on the cheap. It can't be done with smoke, it can't be done with mirrors, it can't be done with platitudes, it must be done with financial resources," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
Mikulski joined Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer in seeking to add $4.3 billion for state and local emergency service workers, including $1 billion for high-threat urban areas. Their amendment would have provided a total of $56 million in new homeland security resources for Maryland.
"Cities are America's front line in ensuring that we have a robust homeland security on this front of the war," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who was on Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby for the extra funds for major cities.
"When we go to code orange," Mikulski said of the high-risk areas, "their budgets go to red ink."
The Senate rejected the amendment 51-46, but adopted, 66-31, an alternative by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, to provide $1.6 billion for first-responders and $600 million for high-threat urban areas.
The Specter amendment represented a rare compromise during a day in which the Bush administration and Republican congressional leaders stood firmly against adding any extra domestic security funds, saying the government has already provided enough resources for anti-terrorism at home.
With many lawmakers eager to punish nations they say have not adequately backed U.S. military efforts in Iraq, administration officials also had to fight off proposals by conservative Republicans to penalize such countries as Turkey, France and Germany.
"Despite recent difficulties," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote in a letter to Young, "the president is devoted to maintaining the strategic partnership that has existed between the United States and Turkey for almost 60 years."
The House rejected, 315-110, an amendment by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican, which would have removed a $1 billion aid package for Turkey. All of Maryland's representatives opposed the amendment.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage urged lawmakers not to succumb to their angry impulses to exclude foreign nations from potentially lucrative contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq after the war.
"Such an amendment would force the United States to pay a disproportionate share of costs associated with Iraqi relief and reconstruction," Armitage wrote. The proposals also could interfere with the rebuilding effort, frustrate U.S. efforts to heal rifts in the international community, and run afoul of international trade rules.
Under pressure from the Bush administration, Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, withdrew an amendment he offered that would have barred any of the $2.5 billion in the measure for rebuilding Iraq after the war from going to French or German businesses.
But the House approved a similar amendment by Rep. Mark Kennedy, a Minnesota Republican, on a voice vote.
The White House is bristling at the constraints Congress placed on the wartime funds. Bush requested that the bulk of the spending measure - including $59.9 billion for the Pentagon - be provided without specific allocations to allow officials to react quickly and without congressional input to changeable circumstances.
Instead, the House provided only $24.5 billion in flexible defense funds in its $77.9 billion version of the supplemental spending bill. The Senate gave the Pentagon broad discretion with just $11 billion in its roughly $80 billion measure.
In a policy statement released yesterday, officials said the limits could slow urgently needed resources to protect Americans both at home and abroad.